Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Do Exurbs Dream of Steel Kangaroos?

My research partner C. Speed and I have been periodically photographing the development process in Whittlesea, documenting stages of development as (often marginal) farmland becomes construction site, becomes new suburb. In the Mernda-Doreen area where our research is concentrated, several of the developments are at the “model village” stage – sales offices have opened, model homes have been built, basic infrastructure is being provided for the initial land releases. It’s an interesting period for capturing attempts to communicate (and bring into being) the kind of community the developers are seeking to create on particular sites.

To illustrate some of what we’re seeing, I’ve posted some photos and commentary below the fold. Although the photos have been optimised for the web, the page may take a bit to load for those with slower connections.

Because of the proximity to the Urban Growth Boundary, several of the developments emphasise a rural look and feel, and try to communicate a sense of groundedness and local history. One development that we’ve photographed recently, for example, has made extensive use of wooden fences and gates with a soft, weatherised texture:

Steel statues around the site have been sandblasted and then patinated to create a rusted, aged look:

And there are features such as this horse trough, which, based on the cracking and weathering of the stone and the donation plaque, I’d assume has been transplanted from its original location into this park:

The development also features interpretive signs, of the sort you might expect to find along a walking trail, or perhaps in a botanical garden or zoo, interpreting various kinds of wildlife. Except that the signs aren’t directed at any areas of habitat – they’re directed at the patinated statues:

The interpretive signs, I should note, don’t talk about the statues themselves – only the wildlife on which the statues are based. So you’ll be reading a sign about a platypus, for example, and then look in the direction in which the sign points, and realise that it’s a statue that is being interpreted.

You can obtain information on the statues, but only by going into the sales office, which displays a small sign about Laurent Filittini, the artist who designed the statues, and Bronzeworks, the company that produced them.

Only the statues nearest the sales office are subject to this interpretive treatment. Twenty statues of kangaroos have also been scattered through this stage of the development – some near the model homes:

some in a park across from the sales office:

and some hiding in the foliage around the sales office, startling you as you walk past and realise that there is… something in the bushes:

These kangaroo statues are all posed “naturalistically” – in family groups and in motion, positioned as though they are grazing or, as in the case of the entranceway kangaroos, perhaps fleeing from the construction crew:

While we’re speaking of entranceways, we’ve also been collecting a healthy set of photographs of entrance treatments to various developments. These are interesting to us, among other reasons, because some of the local government staff have expressed concern about the issue of “gated” communities, and are interested in discouraging stark delineations and encouraging interconnectedness and permeability between developments.

At the same time, the muncipality has actively recruited a large number of developers to ensure multiple simultaneous development fronts, and hopefully thereby to provide an incentive for developers to compete with one another to provide more environmentally-friendly and affordable housing options. The local government strategy toward the development process is an interesting and ambitious one – an innovative way of trying to work around the relatively limited powers available to an Australian local government, and construct a situation that, hopefully, structurally encourages outcomes the Council may not have the power to enforce.

In this particular case, however, there is a tension between the principles of strong interconnectedness and permeability of neighbourhoods, on the one hand, and multiple development fronts, on the other. The multiple development fronts that make a developer more responsive to market competition also increase the pressure to differentiate product – and strong entrance treatments and distinctive theming of the built form are logical tools for differentiating the neighbourhoods and providing grist for buyers whose purchasing decision may hinge on what kind of community they imagine will ultimately exist in these new spaces.

So, it is true that none of the developments we’ve looked at are literally gated (although one sales officer – not associated with any of the photos shown here – did complain that they couldn’t gate their Whittlesea development), but all have strong, easily legible demarcations from neighbouring developments. And the principles of interconnectiveness and permeability among the neighbourhoods are, at best, incompletely realised:

2 responses to “Do Exurbs Dream of Steel Kangaroos?

  1. Bruce May 24, 2006 at 9:55 pm

    They paved paradise….

    And put up steel kangaroos…..?

  2. Pingback: » “We’re Both PhD Students” and Other Confusions on the Road to Qualitative Data

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